Craig Evans’ take on Secret Mark critically examined: Part One

Craig Evans’ take on Secret Mark critically examined:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Craig A. Evans

Craig A. Evans has written an article on the Clement letter including the Secret Gospel of Mark as being a forgery, Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark, which has been favourable received among the forgery proponents. This has also triggered a debate between James F. McGrath here and here, and Craig Evans here. At the end of his article Evans writes that the full text of his “York paper will be published under the editorship of Tony Burke and Phil Harland.” Since he at his homepage publishes the paper Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Exploring the Grounds for Doubt, which he says is a “Paper presented at a conference hosted by York University, Toronto, April 2011. To be published in conference volume”, I suppose that this is the York paper to be published.

Anyway, I will take a look at Evans’ York Paper, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Exploring the Grounds for Doubt. Evans has obviously skipped some of his not so well thought-out arguments, which he put forward in his book Fabricating Jesus and to an even greater extent when he acted as an “expert” for Lee Strobel in Strobel’s book The Case for the Real Jesus (see my article One Thousand and One Untruths: How Reliable Is the Account of Secret Mark by Lee Strobel and Craig Evans?).

Evans’ paper is some sort of summary of most of the arguments which are put forward as evidence that the Clement letter is a forgery and that Morton Smith is the forger. On the whole Evans’ arguments are a rehash and a repetition of arguments already put forward by Stephen Carlson, Francis Watson, Bart Ehrman and others. One could say that Evans’ paper makes a nice summary of all those arguments. I will therefore obviously not be able to answer and try to refute every single argument. This is on the other hand not necessary, since most of the arguments already have been met and often fairly thoroughly refuted by others and some also by me.

I will however concentrate on those issues on which Evans spends most of his time. He says that the reason why he views the find with grave suspicion is “that Smith possessed knowledge of distinctive elements of the Mar Saba find, prior to his finding it”:

“… what I find most troubling is that themes of interest to Professor Smith, as seen in his publications before the finding of the Clementine letter, are found in the Clementine letter. And these are not just themes of interest to Professor Smith, they are quite unusual themes and, apart from Professor Smith himself, they are themes advanced by no one else. In what follows two unusual themes will be explored: (1) The “mystery of the kingdom of God” and prohibited sex, and (2) Markan materials omitted from Mark that exhibit Johannine traits.” (p. 8)

I will begin with the “’mystery of the kingdom of God’ and prohibited sex”.

In order to make such a connection Evans need to show a) that Smith actually made a “linkage between secrecy and prohibited sex”, b) that such a linkage would be seen as something quite unusual and c) that the teaching of the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark has to do with prohibited sex, or sex whatsoever.

We can leave point b) aside, since the probability that Smith by chance would have dealt with issues he later were to discover are difficult to calculate and therefore to evaluate. But in order for Evans’ equation to work both a) and c) must be true. Because if Smith made no linkage between secrecy and prohibited sex, it makes no difference if the teaching of the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark would turn out to be about prohibited sex. And the other way around, if the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark has nothing to do with prohibited sex, it makes no difference if Smith would have linked secrecy with prohibited sex. As it turns out, neither of the assertions seem to be true.

Although, as I said, this paper by Evans constitutes a vast improvement compared to previous attempts by him, it still has logical fallacies and also factual errors on issues on which he should not, or even could not, be unaware of.

Already in the first paragraph Evans says the following:

“What makes the find controversial is that in one of the passages quoted from this Gospel Jesus teaches a naked young man the ‘mystery of the kingdom of God.’”

But you only need to have the ability to read in order to see that the young man is not naked:

“And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.”

As anyone who can read ought to be able to see, the youth is not naked as he wears a linen cloth. If you wear a linen cloth you are not naked. “He only wore a pair of trousers and a t-shirt over his naked body”. This means that he is dressed. One could of course argue that the youth intended to take off the linen cloth, but this will have to be a pure speculation built on no facts at all. And Evans does not even discuss this possibility, but simply asserts that the young man was naked. On top of this he also extends this assumption on page 27 to include Jesus as well, when he writes that “Jesus (in the nude?) instructs a new convert”. For sure he this time has a question mark, yet no discussion around the body of evidence for making such an assumption.

Now, one could say that this is just a trifle; some failed wording. But by saying that the youth was naked, Evans is actually dishonestly presenting something which is not true. The real problem here is though that this faulty assumption then forms the basis for much of his further conjectures.

Evans says that “forbidden sexual activities are hinted at throughout the Clementine letter, including and especially the first quotation of the longer edition of Mark”(p. 15–16). And it is correct that Clement is accusing Carpocrates for distorting the meaning of Secret Mark and the Carpocratians for dealing with carnal and bodily sins. But Clement also elsewhere in his unquestioned writings accuses the Carpocratians for these things, so this is nothing new. The real issue is what is said in the Secret Gospel of Mark, as this is where the mystery of the kingdom of God occurs. Evans (and others) can only make the connection if he can show that Jesus and the youth were indulging in some sex-act when Jesus was teaching the youth the kingdom of God. And there is nothing in the text that supports such a theory. The reasons for this are …

1)      The excerpts from Secret Mark never say that there were any sexual activities between Jesus and the youth.

2)      There is no example anywhere else, neither in Christian nor other writings, that the mystery of the kingdom of God would be a veiled expression for (forbidden) sex.

3)      Jesus is also teaching the other disciples the mystery of the kingdom of God without anyone considering this to have anything to do with sexuality.

4)      A youth wearing nothing but a linen cloth is also present in Mark 14:51–52, and the fact that he is stripped of his clothes, does not hint at (and has not been interpreted as) anything sexual.

5)      The fact that the youth later is described as the one whom Jesus loved,  does not imply anything sexual, as Jesus also elsewhere is said to have loved other people. And besides, the Greek word agapê, which primarily refers to Platonic love, is used.

6)      Clement, who for certain represented the view among those in the Alexandrian Church where this Gospel was used, did not find anything sexual in the text. On the contrary, he quoted the passage in order for Theodoros to see the obvious himself.

So, even IF Smith would have linked the mystery of the kingdom of God to forbidden sexuality, this has no impact on Evans’ arguments since they are not linked in Secret Mark, and (homo)sexuality is no issue in the text.

To be continued …

5 kommentarer

  1. 24 augusti, 2011 den 03:06

    What’s more interesting is that the forgery argument only works if they manipulate the original material. It’s like Chilton with his ‘the youth and Jesus spent the night together.’ Without misrepresenting the text there is no case which is the same thing as saying there is no case.


  2. Christer Brodén said,

    24 augusti, 2011 den 17:48

    Är Hemliga Markus en gnostisk, mytologisk text?

    Bland några/många av de tankeriktningar, som en gång alla kallades kristna, tycks en revolution i synen på kvinnan ha ägt rum. Kvinnor blev präster och församlingsledare. Dessa sekter var möjligen dominerande under en tid. De var kristendom! Sedan blev det en maktpolitisk strid, som slutade med att dessa sekter stämplades som gnostiska.

    Gnostisk blev ett invektiv för alla idéer segrarna ogillade, inte minst idéer vi idag kallar feministiska. Hur beskrevs kvinnorna av ”gnostikerna” under deras storhetstid? Hur beskrivs de i de mytologiska texterna? Är Hemliga Markus en sådan text?

    Ordet gnosis anger bildning, och det handlar om mytologi och filosofi. En kvinna är en människa, och människa är ju maskulinum. Vi talar om Adam och de semitiska språken. Det står i Thomasevangeliets slutkläm: Göra henne till man!

    En ung man i ett linne?

    Den kanaaneiske El Elyon hade två kvinnor, det var de två seraferna (ordet betyder glödande orm). Adam är Guds avbild. Adam har därför också två kvinnor, Själen och Anden.

    Jag brukar kalla själ och ande tankens kraft och handlingens kraft. Personifierade föder de barn, som kallas ord och handlingar. Den som avlar barnen med dem måste ju vara en man. Om din själ och din ande producerar ungar, så är du man, oavsett hur dina fysiska/biologiska könsorgan ser ut.


  3. Den andre BB said,

    24 augusti, 2011 den 20:24

    A question for Huller and Viklund: Why did ”Mark” at all write that the man was naked under the cloth, and not just state that the man had a linen cloth? Why stress the nakedness if nothing sexual is implied?


  4. 24 augusti, 2011 den 21:07

    My honest answer is that I don’t know. I believe the text says no more than what you and I in Swedish would call: “Han hade inget annat än en skjorta på sin bara kropp” (He had nothing but a shirt on his bare body). This could mean a lot of things depending on how you interpret the text. In my example this could imply that the man was freezing, as he had nothing but a shirt on him. In the example with the youth, it could mean, as Smith suggested, that there was some kind of baptism ritual intended. But linen was a delicate cloth which for instance the High priests wore. Jesus is wrapped in linen after his death, the youth in Mark 14:51–52 wears nothing but a linen cloth which is torn off him as he escapes.

    Personally I want to interpret this symbolically. The youth has been “resurrected”. In the parallel story of the resurrection of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, the disciple Thomas encourages the other disciples to also go and die with Lazarus. So obviously to die in order to rise, did not mean that you physically died but that you went through some form of transformation. And after the youth has risen; i.e. has transformed, he is initiated by Jesus. The initiation was more of a confirmation of the transformation and not the transformation itself. It was a ritual performed to confirm the result. And then you would be pure. Possibly you had bathed and put on a clean Holy linen cloth for the big event. The youth was clean and had no filthy clothes but just a clean linen dress when he was given the hierophantic teaching of the mystery of the kingdom of God from the hierophant Lord Jesus. Why would we believe that they then had sexual intercourse?


  5. 25 augusti, 2011 den 02:10

    Andre BB

    It’s one thing to argue its implied, another to argue it’s there. As long as we quibble over possibilities there is no case for forgery. The hoaxers should recognizes who and what they are. They are like the sports fan who says, “My team would have won the match if they had done this …”. Maybe it’s true. But so what?



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